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Before 2+2 summit, US seeks to downplay fears of sanctions on India over Russia arms deals

A senior US official has said the US might consider case-by-case exemptions for countries that significantly reduce their reliance on Russian weapons. Waivers for Russia-related sanctions in a recently amended US law are not country-specific or blanket, the official said.

india Updated: Sep 01, 2018 07:05 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
2+2 summit,sanctions,India
Just days before, a Pentagon official warned that there were no guarantees of a special waiver if India concludes new arms deals with Russia. (Reuters/Picture for representation)

Days after a Pentagon official warned there were no guarantees of a special waiver if India concludes new arms deals with Russia, another senior US official has said the US might consider case-by-case exemptions for countries that significantly reduce their reliance on Russian weapons.

Waivers for Russia-related sanctions in a recently amended US law are not country-specific or blanket, the senior US official said while previewing the inaugural “2+2” dialogue in New Delhi on September 6 during a conference call.

“There is obviously no country-specific waiver in the new legislation,” said the US official. “There are no blanket waivers…and any waiver that we might contemplate…would be assessed on a case-by-case basis and would require, among other things, countries to significantly reduce their reliance on Russian arms.”

US officials also said on the conference call with reporters that the US hopes to sign a defence pact, Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), during the dialogue to allow the sharing with India of sensitive communications technology.

The focus of the call was on sanctions that the US has aimed at Russia and Iran which threaten to impact relations with India. The US stand on these complicated issues has been hobbled by a certain lack of clarity.

A Pentagon official, Randall Schriver, created alarm on Wednesday by saying at a think tank event that waivers for Russia-related sanctions under Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions (CAATSA) could not be guaranteed.

Discussions between the US and India are ongoing on the implication of these sanctions for New Delhi’s planned purchase of Russian S-400 air defence systems worth an estimated $6 billion.

A recent amendment to the law allows the US president to grant exemptions to countries if they fulfill certain conditions, such as reducing reliance on Russian weapons. India fulfills this and it felt reassured a waiver was in the bag, until Schriver said there were no guarantees. New Delhi now plans to ask the US for clarity.

Case-by-case conditional waivers are the sense and spirit of the law as amended by US Congress and signed by President Donald Trump earlier this month at the urging of secretary of defence Jim Mattis and secretary of state Mike Pompeo.

The law names no country as a beneficiary but Mattis specifically mentioned India and Vietnam in his public appeal for a wider waiver authority for the president during an open congressional hearing. Pompeo extended his support to the appeal at a separate hearing.

“There are nations in the world who are trying to turn away from formerly Russian-sourced weapons and systems like this,” Mattis had said. “We only look at India, Vietnam and some others to recognise that eventually we’re going to...paralyse ourselves.”

Waivers under CAATSA and snapped-back Iran sanctions that come into effect on November 5 are among the top topics of discussion between India and the US, which could continue at the 2+2 dialogue.

However, the officials previewing the event repeatedly refused to commit themselves to both topics and details of the conversations that will take place when Mattis and Pompeo meet their Indian counterparts Nirmala Sitharaman and Sushma Swaraj.

Calling the relationship with India “a key US priority and integral to our national security”, one of the two administration officials on the conference call said, “We have a very full and ambitious agenda for the 2+2, including advancing our shared vision for the Indo-Pacific.”

First Published: Sep 01, 2018 07:05 IST